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Bush and Singh push nuclear deal

WASHINGTON, July 25 – US President George W Bush has telephoned Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the controversial civil nuclear deal between the two countries.

The White House said the two men talked of their determination to cement a major civilian nuclear energy agreement between their countries.

The deal has been bitterly opposed by some opposition parties in India.

The government was forced to face a parliamentary vote of confidence on the issue which it won on Tuesday.

The two leaders also discussed the importance of securing a global trade deal at the current World Trade Organisation negotiations in Geneva.

"Both leaders expressed their desire to see the US-India civil nuclear issue move forward as expeditiously as possible," news agency Associated Press quoted US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe as saying.

President Bush told Singh "he looks forward to continuing to work with his government to strengthen the United States-India strategic relationship," Johndroe said.

The two leaders also discussed the stalled WTO talks in Geneva during their conversation on Thursday night.

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The deal would give India access to nuclear fuel and technology

Singh’s government survived a vote of confidence over the nuclear deal on Tuesday.

The vote came after the government’s left-wing allies withdrew their support in protest at the controversial accord.

If the government had lost the vote, India would have faced early elections, casting the nuclear deal in doubt.

Under the accord, India, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would gain access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel.

In return its civilian nuclear facilities would be opened to inspection. Nuclear weapons sites would remain off-limits.

The communists fear the accord could give the US too much influence over Indian foreign and nuclear policy.

The main opposition Hindu nationalist BJP fears that the deal could compromise India’s ability to test nuclear weapons in the future.

India is under pressure from Washington to sign the accord before the US presidential election in November.

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Last week, Indian officials met members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world nuclear regulatory body, in Vienna to discuss plans to safeguard India’s civilian nuclear facilities.

The IAEA’s approval of the plan is a key condition for enacting the deal.

If the IAEA signs the agreement, the deal will go to the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which regulates global civilian nuclear trade, for approval.

India has sent out senior ministers and diplomats to solicit the support of members of the IAEA and NSG.

The deal has to be finally approved by the US Congress before President Bush can sign it into law.

Critics of the deal fear assistance to India’s civil programme could free-up additional radioactive material for bomb-making purposes.

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